Everything You Need to Know About Natural Hair Shrinkage

Shrinkage is a constant worry and even fear for most women with natural hair. You spend hours pulling, twisting, and applying every styling technique to get your curls to their full length, only to have them appear shorter than they actually are.
It's frustrating, and you might feel angry and wish there was a way to eliminate shrinkage once and for all.

While your emotions towards shrinkage are valid, it's important to understand that it's a natural part of your hair journey. To deal with shrinkage, you need to have the right knowledge about it and why it happens.

In this article, I will discuss everything you need to know about natural hair shrinkage, so keep reading.

What is Natural Hair Shrinkage?

Natural hair shrinkage happens when your hair reduces in length from when it is wet to when it dries. This makes your natural hair appear shorter than it actually is.

While this can be annoying or bothersome, it is completely normal and actually a sign of healthy hair. Shrinkage indicates that your natural hair has enough moisture and good elasticity, making it less likely to break.

Here is a natural hair shrinkage chart to provide a visual representation of what shrinkage looks like on all type 4 and 3 hair.

natural hair shrinkage chart

What Causes Natural Hair Shrinkage?

There are three major causes of natural hair shrinkage:

  1. The shape of your natural hair shaft
  2. Exposure to water
  3. No heat application

1. The Shape of Your Natural Hair Shaft

The shape of our natural hair shaft is determined by the curve or straightness of its follicle. If your hair follicle is straight, your hair will grow straight. If, however, your hair follicle is curved, your hair will curl or coil as it grows, leaving room for shrinkage.

2. Your Hair’s Exposure to Water

Our natural hair is made up of proteins called keratin, which are linked together by three types of bonds: hydrogen, disulfide, and salt. These bonds determine the strength and elasticity of our hair.

When our natural hair gets wet, the hydrogen bonds break, causing it to become more elastic and loosen its curls. This is when you can see how long your hair really is and style it easily.

As your hair dries, the hydrogen bonds help it keep the new shape you styled it into. But if your hair gets wet again (like in humid weather or from water-based products), it will go back to its natural shape and shrink.

3. No Heat Application

If you choose not to apply heat to your natural hair to straighten it, it will shrink.

How to Reduce Natural Hair Shrinkage

It's important to remember that shrinkage is a natural part of having curly or afro textured hair, and it's nothing to be concerned about. However, if it bothers you, there are some things you can do to minimize it:

1. Straighten your curls

There are two ways you can do this:

(a) The heat methodheat styling tools

The heat method involves using tools such as curling irons or a diffuser to straighten your curls.

However, it is not advisable to do this often as the heat from these tools can cause hair breakage, split ends, and damage to your hair.

Before using these tools, make sure to apply a heat protectant (a hair product that protects against heat damage).

(b) The no-heat method

no-heat styling tools

The no-heat method involves using elastic bands, African threading, curl formers, and other tools to straighten hair without heat. This method is safer for your natural hair.

2. Detangle the knots

detangling tools

When your hair has knots (which cause tangling and matting), it can result in shrinkage. These knots are little balls of hair tightly curled together, and they can prevent your hair from showing its actual length.

To avoid breakage while detangling your natural hair, you can follow this detailed guide: How To Detangle Dry Natural Hair Without Breakage.

3. Use humidity-resistant hair products

Shea Moisture Raw Shea & Cupuacu Frizz Defense Styling Gel-Cream

As mentioned earlier, humid weather conditions can cause your hair to shrink. However, there are several humidity-resistant hair products that can help you combat this problem. These products include:

  • Shea Moisture Raw Shea & Cupuacu Frizz Defense Styling Gel-Cream
  • Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel
  • ORS Humidity Control Serum
  • Macadamia Anti-Humidity Finishing Spray

4. Style to bed

reversible satin bonnet

Have you noticed that when you braid or twist your curls to bed and take them out in the morning, your hair appears longer and more stretched out? This technique is especially helpful if you want to restyle your curls.

Your braids or twists don't have to be perfect, but it's important to wear a satin bonnet on your head before going to bed to help preserve the shape of the braids/twists.


As you now know, shrinkage is not a bad thing. In fact, it's a sign of healthy natural hair. So, even when you get frustrated that it doesn't allow the actual length of your natural hair to show, just learn to embrace it as part of your natural hair journey.